Cleric puts $1m price on the head of Prophet cartoonist

A MILLION-dollar bounty for the killing of a cartoonist who caricatured the Prophet Muhammad was yesterday offered by a radical cleric in Pakistan, as thousands joined in street protests.

In the north-western city of Peshawar, the prayer leader Mohammed Yousaf Qureshi announced the bounty to about 1,000 people outside the Mohabat Khan mosque.

Mr Qureshi said the mosque and his religious school would give $25,000 (14,300) and a car, while a local jewellers' association would give another $1 million (570,000).

Denmark temporarily closed its embassy and advised its citizens to leave the country.

The security forces were out in strength, particularly around government offices and Western businesses, as Muslims streamed on to the streets after Friday prayers. More than 200 people were detained, but most gatherings were peaceful.

Police confined one former leader of an Islamic militant group to his home in Lahore to prevent him from addressing supporters over the cartoons. Authorities feared he could incite violence, after riots this week killed five people.

However, in Peshawar, Mr Qureshi said: "This is a unanimous decision by all imams of Islam that whoever insults the Prophet deserves to be killed and whoever will take this insulting man to his end will get this prize."

He did not name any cartoonist in his announcement and did not appear to be aware that 12 separate people had drawn the pictures.

A Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, first printed the Prophet cartoons in September.

The newspaper has since apologised to Muslims for the cartoons, one of them showing Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban. Other Western newspapers, mostly in Europe, have reprinted the pictures, asserting the right to freedom of expression.

In Denmark, a spokesman for the Jyllands-Posten said the newspaper did not want to comment on the issue, but Mogens Blicher Bjerregaard, president of the Danish Journalists' Union and spokesman for the cartoonists, condemned the bounty.

"It is absurd. The cartoonists just did their job and they did nothing illegal," he said.

He said the cartoonists - who have been living under police protection since last year - are aware of the reward and were "feeling bad about the whole situation".

In Islamabad, the former US president Bill Clinton criticised the cartoons but said violent protests by Muslims had wasted an opportunity to build better ties with the West.

"Most people in the United States deeply respect Islam ... and most people in Europe do," he said on a visit to sign an HIV-AIDS project by his foundation.

Denmark announced it had temporarily closed its embassy in Pakistan. It also advised against travel to Pakistan and urged Danes still in the country to leave.

Pakistan, meanwhile, recalled its ambassador to Denmark for "consultations" about the cartoons, foreign ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said.

Unrest over the cartoons has spiralled in Pakistan. Riots in Lahore and Peshawar this week caused millions of pounds in damage, as hundreds of vehicles were burned and protesters targeted US and other foreign-branded businesses, including KFC, McDonald's, Citibank, Holiday Inn and the Norwegian mobile phone company Telenor.

Intelligence officials have said that scores of members of radical and militant Islamic groups, such as Jamaat al-Dawat, joined the protests in Lahore on Tuesday and incited violence in a bid to undermine the government headed by the president, Pervez Musharraf.

Yesterday police confined Jamaat al-Dawat's leader, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, to his home in Lahore to stop him from addressing supporters in the city of Faisalabad, his spokesman, Yahya Mujahid, said.

A senior police official in Lahore said the government had ordered police to restrict the movement of all religious leaders who might address rallies and to round up activists who could threaten law and order.

Police used tear gas and batons in isolated incidents during yesterday's protests, when about 150 people were arrested, but generally they were free of violence. About 7,000 protested in Rawalpindi, 5,000 in the south-western city of Quetta and 5,000 in Karachi.

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